The FCIAC season after three weeks has not played out the way we thought it would. The top teams are not as strong as a year ago, but that was expected and, I’m told, a state-wide trend.
Many were hopeful Darien and New Canaan were going to take a step back and end up on a more level plane with some of the schools that qualified for the state playoffs in what was a glorious 2016 season.
St. Joseph’s opening-night win over New Canaan certainly sent ripples throughout Connecticut, but otherwise the most-hyped games have been disappointing blowouts. Darien soundly defeated both Ridgefield and St. Joseph. Staples toppled Wilton. Trumbull was unable to solve Marinelli-coached teams, losing by large margins to both New Canaan and Greenwich.
As one long-time league observer said to me Saturday during the Blue Wave’s 42-10 win over St. Joseph, “See you on Thanksgiving,” the date obviously of the Darien-New Canaan game.
The absence of a league championship has certainly changed the mindset for fans and the philosophies of coaches.
“I don’t care about the FCIAC anymore, it’s all about the state playoffs because there is no FCIAC championship anymore,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said. “Point-wise and everything else, the goal is to get a home game in the state playoffs. I know that they’re going to crown an FCIAC champion based on points, but there is no FCIAC championship game. That kind of takes the allure away.”
One has to wonder at this point: is Darien the clear-cut No. 1 in the league and destined to run its winning streak to 38 games and a third straight state title? The Blue Wave’s last defeat was to New Canaan in the 2014 Class L final, their last regular-season defeat to St. Joseph on Oct. 25, 2013.
Was New Canaan’s loss to St. Joseph an aberration, or have the last two games been a sign the team is poised to end the Blue Wave’s five-year Turkey Bowl winning streak?
Where does Greenwich fit into the picture? Are the Cardinals a top-tier team or just a cut below? How about unbeaten Staples? Can Greenwich, St. Joseph and Ridgefield all return to the state playoffs, and can the FCIAC again have two and maybe even three state champions?
What appeared to offer promise at the start of the season is a fairly distributed strength of schedule. The schools that right now look like probable postseason contenders each play at least two of the others.
“They say it’s not a competitive balanced schedule, though it looks like it really is,” Marinelli said. “Although they say they didn’t do it, it’s pretty obvious from the crossover games that they were hand-picked and not randomized. We play whoever is on our schedule. There are some natural rivalry games in the FCIAC and that’s what makes it fun to watch on a week-in, week-out basis. Towns with a lot of history that go against each other. I wish the FCIAC championship game was still in place because of that.”
So why have we seen so many one-sided games over the first three weeks?
“I haven’t watched the film of some of those games, I’m just focused on what we’re trying to do,” Marinelli said. “The first couple weeks of the season it can be a few different things. Teams are trying to find themselves. From top to bottom there are not a lot of teams with experience coming back, so coaches are still trying to figure out who their guys are and who they can rely on. Turn an inexperienced team into an experienced team quickly. I think there are a lot of new starting quarterbacks as well.”
The final two-thirds of the regular season will feature a number of top 15 teams meeting, starting in two weeks.
“Just like in the NFL and colleges you are going to have haves and have-nots,” Marinelli said. “I think everyone’s goal is to be one of the haves.”
D In Darien
The record for most remarkable statistic of the season may have been set on Saturday: St. Joseph’s Jared Mallozzi finished with one reception for 2 yards in Darien’s 42-10 win on Saturday. That will be hard to top.
There is no disputing Mallozzi is in the conversation for the state’s best receiver. Which makes the job Nick Green and Brian Minicus did shadowing him across the field all the more impressive.
The Blue Wave were not going to let Mallozzi beat them. Jesse Bike stepped up and had six catches for 98 yards and one score, but Darien’s defense bent — well, occasionally — but never broke.
St. Joseph finished with just 171 total yards and quarterback David Summers was sacked six times, three by Mike Neary, who led a defensive line that is looking pretty formidable despite the personnel losses.
Darien had uncertainty at quarterback and both lines coming into the season. Jack Joyce has done a good job through three weeks, and the play up front on both sides has been exemplary.
With so many playmakers, few questioned whether the Blue Wave would put up points. What has stood out so far is how well they are preventing them.
1. Darien (3-0). A great day by the Blue Wave offense against a prolific offense. It is difficult with the remaining schedule to see a way they are not unbeaten for the Turkey Bowl, with a state tournament berth in hand.
2. St. Joseph (2-1). The temptation is to drop the Cadets to third, but that is hard to rationalize after their win over New Canaan on opening week. The game in two weeks against Ridgefield will be key for both teams’ state playoff berths.
3. New Canaan (2-1). The Rams are slowly getting a little better each week. It is most enjoyable to watch Drew Pyne’s pocket poise and wise decision making.
4. Greenwich (2-0). The Cardinals seem to be the wildcard team right now in terms of assessing league rankings. Their most difficult games lie ahead.
5. Ridgefield (2-1). The Tigers get a bye to rest and heal before back to back games against Staples and St. Joseph that will shape their state playoff hopes.